More hotel remodeling and additional rooms, a boost in restaurant and more international travelers all have boosted the suburban hospitality industry, experts said.
Also a reinvestment in family entertainment places, like the new Great Wolf Resorts and others will continue to attract more people to the area, said Kevin Considine, president and CEO of Lake County Partners.
"The most telling have been the investments that many hotels and companies have been making in Lake County so they can continue to grow here," Considine said.
Experts from Lake County to DuPage County and elsewhere have found that a good economy and a boost in tourism have helped the hospitality industry to grow so far this year.
Hyatt Deerfield, Marriott Lincolnshire, Illinois Beach Resort at Illinois Beach State Park and other hotels have been undergoing multimillion dollar remodeling projects to boost business.
Also, Madison, Wisconsin-based parent company of Great Wolf Resorts is investing about $65 million in new construction and renovation at the former Key Lime Cove Waterpark Resort after buying the property in Gurnee. Great Wolf Lodge Illinois is expected to open next summer.
In addition, downtown Libertyville and Vernon Hills have seen an uptick in activity as families flock to restaurants and other entertainment hubs.
"There are new breweries, cool new sushi places and interesting places to hang out," Considine said. "So we're seeing a demographic shift in younger families coming to places they want to visit."
Bath Marchetti, executive director of the DuPage County Convention & Visitors Bureau, also sees a similar uptick, especially with biking trails and forest preserve activities.
As those visitors come to DuPage, they are using the Metra more, visiting local craft breweries and even attending sporting events. A bowling tournament in 2015 attracted $17 million of economic impact to the DuPage area, so county officials are working to attract similar sporting events to the area.
In addition, DuPage has been seeing more international travelers, especially visitors to Fermi and Argonne national laboratories and those participating in educational programs at local schools. Those visitors, in turn, are staying at local hotels and eating at local restaurants, she said.
The hospitality industry in the 10-community region of the Aurora Area Convention & Visitors Bureau also continues to be very strong, said bureau Executive Director Cort Carlson.
Like other regions, several hotels have completed, or are in the process of, upgrading, expanding and rebranding. Downtown Aurora is now home to a completely renovated Holiday Inn Express & Suites. The property is adjacent to the Two Brothers Roundhouse and is close to RiverEdge Park, Paramount Theatre and Hollywood Casino. The former Baymont, at I-88 and IL Rte. 31 in North Aurora, also was renovated and is now flying the Comfort Inn & Suites flag. The former Staybridge Suites Aurora will soon transform into a Hilton brand extended-stay property following a complete remodel of all sleeping rooms and common areas.
This fall, Timber Creek Inn & Suites and Redberry Convention Center in Sandwich will unveil the 86,000-square-feet courtyard outdoor event space and 12,000 square feet of new exhibition space. Then the North Aurora Hotel will soon pickup the Roadway Inn brand. The extensive investment from our local hospitality industry is testament to the strength of the market, Carlson said.
The Aurora Area Sports Alliance will welcome several large sporting tournaments to the region. This includes two United States Specialty Sports Association girls fastpitch softball national championships to be played at Stuart Sports Complex in Montgomery and the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division 1 women's and men's golf championships at Rich Harvest Farms. "I am very optimistic on the remainder of the year in the Aurora area," said Carlson. "This year and the future looks very bright."
The big picture
Overall, the suburbs have been about even or down slightly so far compared to last year with hotel occupancy, while room rates have grown by around 1 percent, said Ric Mandigo, senior consultant with TR Mandigo & Co., a hotel consultancy in Elmhurst.
There were a number of openings last year, with four hotels in the north, three hotels in the northwest, one at O'hare.
"It's still a bit early to flush out the whole year. But from where we are standing, it appears that Chicago may continue to grow somewhat, though at a slower rate than in years past," said Mandigo. "It would have lost some on the year in 2016 if not for the Cubs effect, which boosted late season tourism, while the suburbs are poised to stay about flat, owing to the new supply (of hotel rooms) which has arrived."
The market, in general, has been solid, said Robert Habeeb, president and CEO of Rosemont-based First Hospitality Group Inc.
"Revenues have held against last year and, in some markets, we are actually up slightly," said Habeeb. "This is good news in light of continued growth in supply."
He believes the rest of the year will look like last year.
"Many were skeptical of this year because of continued growth in supply and what some perceived as potential weakness in the economy, but all in all the news has not been bad."